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NFL Honors: A brief look at Atlanta’s contenders

Atlanta has a number of players that could bring home awards for their performance throughout the 2016 season.

New Orleans Saints v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Every season in the NFL ends with three mainstays, bookended by the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl, but right in between those two massive events is the NFL Honors awards show.

The night before the Super Bowl, the league gets together to give out awards for the best plays and players from the season. Awards include: Most Valuable Player, Coach of the Year, Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive/Defensive Rookie of the Year, and Comeback Player of the Year.

This year, the Atlanta Falcons are in a position that they have not been in they last few years: Falcons players are contenders for a number of awards this season. Namely, Matt Ryan is a legitimate contender for the MVP of the 2016 season, but there are a few other players that could bring awards back home to Atlanta. Here’s a quick rundown of what Awards could end up in Atlanta and who could win them. Let’s start on the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

This season, a number of rookies played beyond their years, earning attention throughout the year for their performance on the field. Eli Apple from the New York Giants, Joey Bosa from the San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville’s Jalen Ramsey, and Atlanta’s Keanu Neal are the main contenders for DROY this season, but Deion Jones is also an under-the-radar candidate based on his consistent play this season. Let’s look at the case for both Falcons rookies. Both rookies have racked up over 100 tackles on the season, each of them with over 70 solo tackles. On top of that, Jones has forced one fumble over the season, while Neal has forced five; they both have become solid defenders in the passing game, as well.

Both of these guys have changed the identity of the Falcons defense in a single season with their superb athleticism and ability to punish opposing players in the open field. It is rare to see rookie defenders play as early as Neal and Jones did and have as much success as they did, especially in Atlanta—though it is becoming more and more routine for rookies to excel in their first year. Unfortunately, though, it looks like both of these guys are long shots to win due to the excellent seasons that Bosa and Ramsey had in their rookie campaigns, with most considering Bosa to be the favorite at this point.

Either way, both Deion Jones and Keanu Neal have had stellar rookie years and look to become anchors in a young, athletic Falcons defense.

Defensive Player of the Year

This award, like most awards the NFL gives out, rarely is every mentioned when talking about the Atlanta Falcons. The usual names like Von Miller, JJ Watt, and, now, Khalil Mack always find their place on the list, while Atlanta sits back and watches due to the lack of game-wrecking talent on that side of the ball. However, this year the Falcons are right in the mix thanks to the greatly improved play of Vic Beasley, the NFL’s regular-season sack leader (15.5).

Beasley brought something to Atlanta that we haven’t seen since John Abraham left: a consistent pass rush. Plenty of people will say that Beasley’s numbers were a result of playing poor competition or that they were coverage sacks, but no matter the reason, Beasley was phenomenal this season.

He faces very stiff competition, though, as Aaron Donald, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, and Landon Collins all put together exceptional years this season. Donald has turned into one of the most versatile, powerful, and disruptive defensive players in the NFL over the last two years; Mack, since his rookie season, continues to improve and grow as a pass rusher and an overall defensive player; Miller was once again one of the top two in the league in sacks; and Collins broke out this season as one of the top safeties in the NFL with five interceptions, four sacks, one touchdown, and a fumble recovery.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the player who led the league in sacks and forced fumbles would be the Defensive Player of the Year. Beasley made a habit of beating opposing tackles and became a force in the backfield for quarterbacks across the NFL. However, many are citing Beasley’s lack of consistent impact on games apart from his stats—he only impacted the game when he was sacking QB’s and forcing fumbles. In light of this, I would probably give the nod to Miller, though I think Collins could be considered a legit candidate at this point when you look at the success of the Giants defense this season.

Offensive Player of the Year/Most Valuable Player

These are two separate awards but the same player is in contention for them: Matt Ryan. If you’ve seen my Twitter feed recently you know that I, much like my fellow Falcoholics, am 100% in the camp that believes that Ryan is the MVP of the NFL this season. I won’t do too much to lay out the case for that, because DW has it covered (here is Part I) and there are plenty of other articles that do so as well—though none as good as DW’s, obviously.

The competition for MVP or OPOY really comes down to the same set of players: Ryan, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, Dak Prescott, and Ezekiel Elliott. While all of these guys have put up good numbers and played well for most of the season, none of them has done it as efficiently or consistently as Ryan. Look for there to be plenty of discussion regarding these two awards, simply because offense is sexier than defense and this is the most star-powered list of candidates. In light of that, Atlanta is not really considered sexy and Matt Ryan is definitely not one of the guys that comes to mind when you think of star-power, so it would seem that things are somewhat stacked against him in this race—everything except for logic and a good set of eyes, that is. Nonetheless, Ryan is right in the middle of the conversation and that in itself is fantastic to see, so whether he wins MVP or the Offensive Player of the Year or not, he has still had one of the best seasons and NFL quarterback has had in the history of the league.

Anyone else?

In terms of end of the year awards, those are the Falcons to watch out for the night before the Super Bowl. They may all walk away empty handed or the Falcons may rack up three awards that night, but it is cool to see Atlanta names on the lists of those being considered. If you asked me what I thought the Falcons walked away with, I see it shaking out like this:

  • DROY: Joey Bosa
  • DPOY: Von Miller
  • OPOY: Matt Ryan
  • MVP: Aaron Rodgers

I’m not thrilled with those results but I think the Falcons are in the middle of each one of those conversations. That’s something we haven’t seen in Atlanta in a while and something that the city needs to get excited about Falcons football again—playoff games with a chance at the Super Bowl certainly help as well.

What do you think? Do the Falcons clean up at the awards? Let us know in the comments below!